Opinion | ‘Americans Like a Happy Warrior’: Our Columnists Weigh In on Tim Scott
As Republican candidates enter the 2024 presidential race, Times columnists, Opinion writers and others will assess their strengths and weaknesses with a scorecard. We rate the candidates on a scale of 1 to 10: 1 means the candidate will probably drop out before any caucus or primary voting; 10 means the candidate has a very strong chance of receiving the party’s nomination next summer. This entry assesses Tim Scott, the junior senator from South Carolina, who announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination on Monday.
How seriously should we take Tim Scott’s candidacy?
Jamelle Bouie The odds that Tim Scott leaves the single digits, much less overtakes Donald Trump, are extremely slim, but I still think we should take Scott’s candidacy seriously for what it might say about the Republican Party after Trump.
Jane Coaston We should take it far more seriously than we ultimately will.
Michelle Cottle Maybe divide Ron DeSantis’s chances by Nikki Haley’s, then multiply by the square root of Vivek Ramaswamy’s.
Ross Douthat The only reason to take Scott more seriously than his fellow South Carolinian Nikki Haley is that he has less of a national identity and brand, so there’s a little more room for him to surprise us on the campaign trail. For now, though, he occupies roughly the same terrain that she does: the donor-friendly, telegenic candidate of the multiracial future who just doesn’t have the populist edge required to satisfy the typical conservative voter’s far grimmer and more combative mood.
Rosie Gray Like the other non-Trump Republicans entering the race, the odds are stacked against him. However, he’s already proved to be attractive to major G.O.P. donors and is popular in the Senate (not that that helped other Republicans much in 2016).
Michelle Goldberg He’s a long shot, but we should take him more seriously than any of Trump’s other declared challengers. He’s beloved by the conservative elite, has a reported $22 million in the bank and would probably be the most formidable Republican in a general election.
Liz Mair He’s unlikely to be the G.O.P. presidential nominee — but very likely to be the vice-presidential nominee.
Daniel McCarthy Tim Scott is the most serious candidate who isn’t Trump or Ron DeSantis. That may seem like faint praise. But Republican primary voters have been eager to consider Black candidates in recent cycles: Herman Cain in 2012, Ben Carson in 2016. That eagerness gives Scott an opening.
Alex Stroman Tim Scott is a serious candidate with a biography that in any other year would make him one of the likeliest nominees for the presidency. A strong finish in Iowa — a state tailor-made for a candidate like Scott — could still propel him to the nomination.
What matters most about him as a presidential candidate?
Bouie In terms of his assets as a candidate, he is one of the most prodigious and impressive fund-raisers in the Republican Party, which is a testament to his serious retail political skill. But what truly matters most is the fact that he’s trying to build on the things Trump brought to Republican politics while also trying to forge a different direction for the party.
Coaston He is a candidate with both a self-concept and a policy direction. He is very conservative, but his conservatism is rooted in conservative policy, not just conservative performance. His police reform bill favored oversight rather than reducing protections for police in civil cases, for example. That’s not my ideal, but it’s one that I understand, at least.
Cottle As the lone Black Republican in the Senate, he is an experienced elected leader who could help soften the party’s image as a bunch of angry, racist old white guys.
Douthat From his perspective, what matters most is whether Ron DeSantis collapses and there’s a scramble to find a different anti-Trump candidate — or somewhat more plausibly, whether he can sell himself as a compelling vice-presidential candidate for the eventual nominee. From the country’s perspective, he and Haley and Vivek Ramaswamy are all reminders that the G.O.P. is, in its own way, a multiethnic big tent — but not in the kind of way that’s likely to make Scott its nominee.
Gray For one thing, Scott’s run is historic in that he is the first Black officeholder to seek the Republican presidential nomination, as Jamelle Bouie recently pointed out. And his candidacy, like that of Haley, will be a test of how much support truly exists for the favorites of the old G.O.P. establishment.
Goldberg White people on the right love Black conservatives who mostly absolve them on racial issues while indicting progressives.
Mair Scott’s entire persona and approach runs counter to what is currently dominant in the Republican Party. He’s a very positive, optimistic and upbeat guy. You don’t find that often in today’s politics — in either party. He’s also smart and a very strong communicator, even when explaining complex policy.
McCarthy His candidacy makes it harder to overlook Black men who support the G.O.P. In Scott, they have an example of success within the party. Nearly one in five Black men nationwide voted for Donald Trump in 2020 — Senator Scott would broaden the national conversation as well as the Republican field.
Stroman He’s inspiring and doesn’t turn off moderates or MAGA supporters. He’s a conservative, but he’s not angry about it — a refreshing outlier when both parties are dominated by loud voices playing to their bases and ignoring the middle. If his major addresses (his 2020 Republican National Convention speech and 2021 response to President Biden’s first address to Congress) are anything like his campaign, I expect he will run a compassionate-conservative-style race that focuses on uplifting and uniting the country and making Americans feel proud again.
What do you find most inspiring — or unsettling — about his vision for America?
Bouie I think he, along with his fellow South Carolinian Nikki Haley, represents one vision for a multiracial ideological conservatism that might have legs.
Coaston He sounds like a person who exists outside of Washington, in comparison to his party, which talks a lot about the evils of the Beltway while never leaving. Today, who is a Republican and who is a Democrat is shifting. No better example of that than Tim Scott.
Cottle He’s aiming for a unity and optimism vibe — more “morning in America” than “American carnage.”
Douthat Scott looks like the heir to Jack Kemp’s old blueprint for how the Republican Party could thrive in a multiracial future — with an upbeat, equal-opportunity, colorblind-capitalism-lifts-all-boats vision of the American experiment. This vision was too simplistic in Kemp’s era and way too simplistic now; it is, however, a piece of what a healthy conservatism should offer to the country.
Gray Scott markets himself as a positive, optimistic, let’s-work-together guy, but his politics are in line with the most intransigent conservatives of his party. Whether this is inspiring or unsettling I guess depends on one’s point of view.
Goldberg He’s a sunny and optimistic figure, not an apocalyptic culture warrior, and has a record of bipartisan work on criminal justice reform. I’d be very sad if Scott became president, but I wouldn’t be terrified.
Mair Scott’s personal story really exemplifies why he believes what he believes about limited government and small-c conservatism, and why it will open up opportunities for many Americans who have historically lacked them. And Scott himself is an inspiring guy.
McCarthy What’s most inspiring about Senator Scott’s vision is its integration of certain sound priorities old and new: stronger border enforcement, including building the wall that Trump proposed in 2016, combined with unsexy but urgent traditional G.O.P. themes like curbing the national debt. Scott is no national conservative, but he has learned some lessons from populism without forgetting what was right about older fiscal orthodoxies.
Stroman He didn’t go to Fordham or to an Ivy League school — he went to Charleston Southern, a small Southern Baptist university near his hometown, North Charleston, where he announced his presidential campaign. He was raised by a single mother in poverty, and became only the seventh Black U.S. senator in American history. Through his story, Scott has the ability to attract new voters to the party — if primary voters will give him the opportunity.
Imagine you’re a G.O.P. operative or campaign manager. What’s your elevator pitch for a Scott candidacy?
Bouie Americans like a happy warrior, and Scott is nothing if not a happy warrior.
Coaston He speaks to an optimistic conservatism — one that believes in its own rhetoric.
Cottle He has a great back story, and he’d make a heckuva V.P. candidate.
Douthat If the Republican Party could just seem normal, friendly and nonapocalyptic for more than five minutes at a time, it could beat Joe Biden by five points. Why not nominate Scott and try it?
Gray Scott has a compelling story and a more positive message than mudslinging rivals like Trump and DeSantis. He could be attractive to voters who are sick of the back-and-forth and want a more hopeful-seeming alternative.
Goldberg At a time when the Democratic Party is losing Black men, a Tim Scott nomination would be a nightmare for Joe Biden.
Mair Tim Scott offers sunny optimism for a great country whose best days really are ahead of it.
McCarthy Tim Scott is the Republican answer to the 1619 Project.
Stroman Trump has to win Iowa. But evangelicals win Iowa, and Tim Scott is an evangelical.
Jane Coaston (@janecoaston) is a staff writer in Opinion.
Michelle Cottle (@mcottle) is a member of The Times’s editorial board.
Rosie Gray (@RosieGray) is a political reporter.
Jamelle Bouie, Ross Douthat and Michelle Goldberg are Times columnists.
Liz Mair (@LizMair) has served as a campaign strategist for Scott Walker, Roy Blunt, Rand Paul, Carly Fiorina and Rick Perry. She is the founder and president of Mair Strategies.
Daniel McCarthy (@ToryAnarchist) is the editor of Modern Age: A Conservative Review.
Alex Stroman (@AlexStroman) is a former spokesman with the Republican National Committee and executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party.
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